India must prioritize the protection of its birds | Analysis – analysis
Sirkeer Malkoha is a bird with dark eyes and a lush, scarlet beak with a yellow tip. Because of this beak, it is also known as the lipstick bird. The Great Cuckooshrike is a gray bird with a hooked beak, an alert hunter and a living presence in the forest. Both birds are considered common in India. People may not know their names, but they would have seen them in the business of life. And, both are disappearing quickly.
For the first time, a report analyzed how the birds of India are. the Birds of the state of India The report examined 867 bird species, obtaining their abundance and size range after studying more than 10 million records loaded by birdwatchers, including old records. The results are a wake up call. When observing the species for which there were sufficient data, more than 50% of the birds are in clear decline since 2000, and in the last five years, 79% of the birds have registered a decreasing number. Most of the declining groups include shorebirds, birds of prey (such as eagles, comets, vultures and others) and habitat specialists.
At this time of the year, birds flock to wetlands and coasts, completing epic migrations from areas as distant as the Arctic, Europe and Central Asia. This has traditionally meant millions of birds, because India is the largest land mass before the Indian Ocean, and has 90% of the critical scale sites for birds that migrate on the Central Asian migratory route in this region. If you look closely at a wetland or coast, the gray dots on the horizon may be Tibet’s bar-headed geese, framed by the great flamingos of Central Asia. Closer to the shore, a bird that looks like mud, furrowed with gold, the Golden Plover of the Pacific, feeds on the coasts. Coming from the Arctic, this bird has registered a sharp decline, like many other migratory shorebirds.
Several Indian birds considered common are no longer as common. This has not been adequately reflected in policy instruments for years. For example, the World Red List of species maintained by the intergovernmental organization, International Union for Conservation of Nature, a global list that classifies the species in terms of how close they are to extinction, places Sirkeer Malkoha and the Great Cuckooshrike in the lowest category of least concern. More worrisome, our own Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, has schedules to protect species, and both birds enter Annex IV of low rank. This will prohibit hunting, but it is unlikely to encourage managers to create specific plans to protect the species.
Clearly, updates are needed on the Wildlife Law of decades old. And India needs to establish its own regional and national priorities, with its own version of the Red List.
An even more pertinent question becomes: How do we do the business of protecting these species? Of the 867 species evaluated, 101 are of high concern for conservation. These cover a large habitat area, including the colorful Indian nuthatch of mountainous areas and the Small Minivet of scrub forests, which are decreasing in number. This indicates the obvious: scrub forests and mountainous areas require conservation.
Policies and conservation should now look for innovative ways to conserve these varied habitats. India is part of the Convention for Biological Diversity, the United Nations-led convention for wildlife conservation. The convention requires other effective conservation measures based on areas (OECM). These are tools that are not always found in land registries such as national parks, but include informally preserved places. For a country as diverse and complex as ours, the OECM should form a bastion for conservation. Sacred groves, private land, community areas and institutional campuses can form OECM. We do not need more gardens with strange plants, but a renewed appreciation of the native habitat such as the open thicket and the thorn forest, favored today by Small Minivet and once by Cheetah.
The names are misleading. The common hoopoe, also a kind of thicket and open forest, is no longer as common, registering a moderate decrease. There have been major changes in land use in the scrubland habitat, and more bird habitat is likely to be lost. For example, the Wetland Rules, modified in 2017, have a new definition of wetlands. Salinas (thousands of points on our coasts, which house millions of wading and migratory birds) are no longer considered wetlands. We will need OECM and flexible approaches to conserve birds, providing shelter during times of migration and reproduction.
We need thousands of school and university campuses to join efforts in bird habitat conservation, with lists of birds that were once common and of high concern for conservation in each curriculum. At the end of the day, the conservation of these bird species is about conserving the native habitats, which adapt to our climate. And our birds adapt to our temperament: we may not know all their names, but we know the birds.
Perhaps re-learning names can be a way to re-learn memories. It would be a shame to never really know what we are missing.
Neha Sinha is with the Natural History Society of Mumbai
The opinions expressed are personal.